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Court ruling makes land title a worthless scrap of paper

PUTRAJAYA: Land owner, Ishmael Lim Abdullah, is one move away from losing his home after the Court of Appeal ruled yesterday that his land title is null and void.

Lim only has one last legal avenue — the Federal Court — left to hold onto his home.

The three-member bench ruled that the 5,000 sq m property in Templer’s Park, which Lim had inherited from his father, had been acquired by the federal government in 1974, and therefore his application to reinstate his ownership was dismissed.

Justice Datuk Mah Weng Kwai said the land acquisition process began in 1973 and was completed in 1974, hence the land had since then belonged to the state.

In light of this, “Lim Cheng Kim, a Singaporean woman who was the previous owner, no longer has good title of the land, therefore the transfer of the land to Lim’s father is null and void,” Mah said.

The other presiding judges included president of the Court of Appeal Tan Sri Md Raus Sharif and Datuk Abdul Malik Ishak.

Mah also stressed that the enforcement of “Form K” to register the acquisition — as required under the National Land Code — is merely a formality and not fatal to the acquisition process.

Lim had submitted that Form K is fatal to the acquisition, because Lim’s father would not have bought the land if the change of ownership was registered in the first place.

Mah added that even though Lim has been paying quit rent and assessment rate and was able to charge the land for a bank loan, it “does not prove that his title is indefeasible”.

The ruling of the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court decision of March 11, 2010 on the case.

The court ordered a cost of RM5,000 for both respondents — the Federal Land Commission and the Gombak Land Office.

It also directed Lim’s lawyer Shalini Yeap to file a formal application for an Erinford injunction pending appeal to the Federal Court, so that Lim and his family could continue to live in the house.

“This is our home, my family has lived here for more than 30 years. It’s not an empty plot of land,” Lim said.

Devastated by the ruling, Lim maintained that his father had purchased the land through legal means, and his father would not have bought the land had the ownership been changed to the federal authority.

“If the registration had the new name on the title, my father wouldn’t have got it in 1975. We did not purchase the land by fradulent means,” he said.

“We follow the law to the letter, but the law does not protect us.”

According to Lim, a valuation on the land showed that it is worth more than RM1 million now, compared to RM6,000 four decades ago.

Lim’s nightmare began on March 9, 2005 when he received an eviction notice issued by the Gombak Land Office, stating that the land had been acquired for an armed forces training school.

He said that in the initial stages of the legal battle, the High Court had given time for both parties to settle the matter out of court. However, in spite of this order, the Land Office proceeded to cancel Lim’s ownership of the land.

The nine-year long legal battle initiated by Lim was aimed at setting aside the eviction order and reinstating his ownership of the property.

Lim had inherited the property in 1992 from his late father, and has been paying the quit rent and assessment rate until now.


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This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on May 20, 2014.

 

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